I posted my initial thoughts on SC2: Heart of the Swarm earlier and at the time I was pretty positive about the game. I finished it this weekend and I am leaning somewhat more negative having played through the entire thing. It is still polished and had a solid launch - technically speaking there can be no significant complaints especially considering how bad other titles have been in the department recently. Unfortunately for HotS it comes on the heels of what I consider to be one of the best titles in recent history... SC2: Wings of Liberty itself.
HotS has 27 missions but 7 of them are evolution missions which are utterly trivial and without merit or interest. They are fine in the sense that they provide context for a choice you have to make but their very existence makes me not want to play through the game again on Brutal difficulty. I played through the original WoL campaign a good half dozen times and enjoyed it each time but I find little enough incentive to do so with this expansion.
Evolution missions aren't the only sticking point though. In WoL there was a much greater degree of choice in terms of how missions played out. Although this often made the story seem somewhat nonsensical I really enjoyed the ability to choose what I tackled next and the fact that I could leave parts of the story behind and just finish the primary mission was great. It gave me the sense of exploration and freedom instead of simply following a linear path with trivial deviations. WoL also had choices in missions that determined the parameters of the mission and changed later cutscenes and plot developments. These choices allowed me to feel like I was in some sense in control of the game. HotS lacks both character decisions as well as tactical choices like mission ordering and it feels much less immersive.
I also feel like the very nature of the storytelling style leaves me less interested because the actors are so inhuman. I honestly don't give a crap about Stukov, Dhaka, and the other zerg aliens that Kerrigan has so many conversations with. The lore behind the conversations is really well done and they did a good job with what they had to work with but I am a human and I can't empathize with a big ole pack of monsters. In WoL I really did like the characters and I felt a connection to them and their story simply because they were people. I found it hard to care whether anyone aside from the marquee heroes lived or died. Given that this expansion was all about zerg it does seem somewhat inevitable but it didn't work for me.
HotS feels analogous to Cataclysm for WOW. Good looking, technically solid, but honestly not as much FUN as previous expansions. Also the 'gaming on rails' aspect of Cataclysm and the lack of choice is definitely not something I enjoy going through again. I figured after going through HotS completely on Hard I would then swap to Brutal and do it again. Instead I find myself thinking that if I play SC2 right now I am just going to play through WoL on Brutal instead for my fourth time. That is a sad fact for HotS.